SELECTING AND COOKING LOBSTERS: Buy the freshest lobsters available -- it's not the time to scrimp. Examine the shells of the lobster for algae; you might find it under or near the bands on the large claws. If algae is present, the lobster probably isn't fresh.
It's not the time to overcook the lobster either. If you're boiling the lobster, our chefs suggested cooking times that ranged from about six minutes for a 11/4-pound lobster to nine to 10 minutes for a two-pounder. Start the timing from the moment you put the lobster into boiling water. Finish by plunging the lobsters into ice water to stop the cooking process.
Take advantage of the entire lobster: A single one can be put to different uses in the same meal. A lobster tail can be sliced in good-looking medallions. Knuckle meat, while less photogenic, still tastes terrific and is a natural for lobster salad. (There's usually a lot of it.) Claw meat can be used in salads, too. And don't throw out the shells. They can be used as containers for some of the lobster meat, sculptural elements, as a flavoring for soup or to make lobster bisque.
If you're making lobster salads, or using sliced lobster as an element atop another salad, clean and cut all the vegetables in advance. Salads should be assembled at the last minute. (That means you should also steam the corn ahead of time, too, to let it cool.)
PLATING: Free-form or formal, you don't want to clump food in the center of the plate or, for that matter, into neat little piles.
But some dishes call out for orderly arrangements. If you're trying to get soup, salad and a sandwich out of one lobster, inexpensive small plates often available at Asian markets will keep individual presentations in line. Neatness counts. At Pesce, for example, chef Tom Meyer used two-inch forms (available at restaurant supply stores) to keep his lobster cakes in line with the two-inch squares of toast he used to build a mini-tower of a sandwich.
Others presentations respond to a seemingly looser arrangement. At Yanyu, Bill Tu and Johnnie Yip positioned a haystack-shaped portion of lobster knuckle and shredded vegetable slaw in one corner of a large blue square glass plate. In the center, they placed their lobster salad atop a portion of sauteed corn kernels. But instead of leaving the corn as a tidy platform, they spread some of the kernels out in interesting patterns to create color and eye interest on the plate, and visual balance for the slaw.
Color contrasts can be particularly appealing. In Jeff Tunks's summer rolls, the color layers of lobster, mango, mint, greens and noodles are all visible.
Varying heights can be helpful, too. The Yanyu chefs used spikes of flowering chive and lobster claw meat to give drama to their salad. Tom Meyer used an end piece of lobster claw meat and a sprig of tarragon to give visual interest to a demitasse cup of soup.
-- Judith Weinraub